During March, Bowdoin students have the opportunity to take time away from their busy course loads and escape Brunswick’s lingering cold. Many choose to travel home and visit family, while others go on alternative spring break trips or travel across the globe. Michael Webber ’23 had a different experience this spring break, signing a professional deal with the Major League Soccer (MLS) NEXT Pro club North Texas SC on March 21.
Webber graduated a semester early this past fall in hopes of pursuing his dream of playing professional soccer. During his time at Bowdoin, the goalkeeper made 39 appearances for the Polar Bears. He earned 16 clean sheets, good enough to place him fourth all time on the Bowdoin Men’s Soccer shutout list. Webber is also currently tied for the team’s all time single-season win record with his 13 wins in the 2022 season.
After graduating, Webber started trying out for a few teams, including the New York Red Bulls second team and Louisville City FC, but always stayed ready for his next opportunity.
“I got a call one Tuesday afternoon saying ‘Hey, can you fly out today?’ And then I was on a plane [to Dallas] Wednesday morning,” Webber said.
Webber tried out for the team for a week in early March, and after receiving an offer at the end of tryouts, he flew home to pack up his things and moved to Texas for good.
A huge draw to North Texas SC for Webber was the unique structure of the MLS NEXT Pro league, which comprises 27 teams that operate as reserve sides for MLS and is officially the third tier of U.S. soccer. This unique format provides many opportunities for overlooked players to break onto a first-team roster.
“The fluidity and movement between teams here is pretty cool. Some days you’re training with your team, and then the next day, you could be training against two or three national team guys,” Webber said.
While Webber is under a professional contract, he is still competing for his role on the team. His competition for the goalkeeper position on the squad includes a goalie for the under-20 U.S. Youth National Team and a goalie committed to Duke University that plays with the under-17 U.S. Youth National Team.
“I’m playing with some of the best goalies in the country for their respective age groups. It’s definitely a battle, but it’s fun,” Webber said.
Webber’s age and experience as a goalkeeper with over 3,500 minutes at the collegiate level help provide a unique perspective to the club, something North Texas SC valued when signing Webber.
“He will help bring leadership to the younger goalkeepers that are rotating in from the [FC Dallas Youth] Academy,” Head Coach Javier Cano said in the press release detailing Webber’s signing.
The expected leadership role is one Webber is prepared to take on, with some players on the club being as young as 16 years old.
“Being one of the older guys, they’re definitely looking at me and the other college graduates to lead by example,” Webber said. “Even though they might not be as old or as mature, they’re still fantastic soccer players.”
So far, Webber has only spent a few weeks with North Texas SC, and he hasn’t traveled with the team yet. Many players wait years before receiving their first shot at professional soccer, but Webber remains undeterred, patiently waiting his turn.
“I’m definitely taking it day by day, week by week at this point,” Webber said.
With the rest of the season ahead of him, Webber has a lot of time to work his way into the regular rotation, but these aren’t his only goals for the season.
“Get better every day. Meet these guys and create connections with them. But overall, [my goal is to] just improve as a person and player,” Webber said.
With North Texas SC having a club option for the 2024 season, Webber has 22 games to prove his value to the club, in addition to adjusting to a new living situation and schedule far away from home. His focus can’t waver.
“Soccer is the easy part,” Webber said.